Blue Jays: Could Tony Watson be a free agent target?

PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 14: Tony Watson
PITTSBURGH, PA - JULY 14: Tony Watson /

The Blue Jays have a strong foundation returning in their bullpen for 2018, but nearly all of their depth is from the right side. Could they look to bring a left-hander from their free agent market?

The Toronto Blue Jays got through the 2017 season with a very effective bullpen with arms who could handle both sides of the plate. Outside of Roberto Osuna, the bullpen was anchored by Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, and Dominic Leone. All three of Tepera, Barnes, and Leone were fantastic in 2017, and despite not having a southpaw in the bullpen, each of them shut down left-handed hitters extremely effectively. But can the 2018 Blue Jays replicate the success without a dominant lefty at the back end of the bullpen? Perhaps! It’s not a risk they should take though.

We all know that bullpens are extremely fickle. One year, they can be dominant. The next, they’ll rip your heart out. That’s why the Blue Jays should still be active in free agency and add even more arms to the bullpen, or as depth in the system going into 2018. It’s not a for sure thing we’ll see the same production from Leone, Tepera, or Barnes in 2018. On top of those three, Roberto Osuna and Aaron Loup, there seems to be two bullpen openings for next season. I do believe the Blue Jays will make a play for dominant lefty reliever, Tony Watson.

Watson was with the Pittsburgh Pirates his entire career before getting traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the trade deadline. His first two seasons were quite effective before he became an elite set-up man in 2013 for the likes of Jason Grilli and Mark Melancon. Here are Watson’s seasons from 2013-2016:

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  • 2013: 3-1, 19.3 K%, 4.3 BB%, 80.7 LOB%, 2.39 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 0.6 fWAR
  • 2014: 10-2, 26.6 K%, 4.9 BB%, 88.5 LOB%, 1.63 ERA, 2.69 FIP, 1.4 fWAR
  • 2015: 4-1, 21.2 K%, 5.8 BB%, 82.2 LOB%. 1.91 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 1.5 fWAR
  • 2016: 2-5, 21.3 K%, 7.4 BB%, 80.3 LOB%, 3.06 ERA, 4.37 FIP, 0.0 fWAR

Watson was named the Pirates full time closer in 2017 after they lost Mark Melancon in free agency to the San Francisco Giants. Watson did struggle at first, but ended up finishing with a respectable 3.38 ERA on the season. After the trade to the Dodgers, Watson posted a 2.70 ERA and had a big uptick in strikeouts from 16.8% to 22.0%.

While Tony Watson wasn’t nearly as dominant against left handers as he usually was for his career, he has owned left handers for his entire career. The Blue Jays would benefit from having a dominant lefty who get can left handers out deep in a ball game. While they were able to succeed without a left hander in 2017, it would solidify the 2018 bullpen as being one of the better ones in the game of baseball.

The MLB has turned to a bullpen heavy mindset when teams shape their roster to make runs into the playoffs. The 2018 Blue Jays will need to rely heavy on their pitching staff to get back to the post-season. 4/5ths of the rotation is solidified for 2017. An addition of Tony Watson would all but cement the 2018 Blue Jays pitching staff. He will be heavily pursued, but I at least expect the Blue Jays to make a run at Watson in free agency.

Next: 2017 Projections: What happened vs what was supposed to